Mollie Witow hasn’t lost her adventurous spirit with age.
The 96-year-old decided to take to the sky on Aug. 27 as a prelude to her October birthday. Members of her family, including her daughter and grandchildren, accompanied her to Taylorsville for her first-ever hot-air balloon ride.
Donning black pants and a gray sweater, Bubbie, as her grandchildren affectionately call her, arrived at a sun-soaked field in Carroll County. She clutched a gold necklace, bearing photos of her late parents, strewn around her neck.
“I thought I would take them with me,” Witow said. “I’ve done many things in my life, but I’ve never done anything like this. I’m ready to go, no second thoughts.”
The Goucher College alumna is no stranger to the Maryland area. The longtime resident was born in transit shortly after her parents boarded the last train out of Russia in the midst of the Russian Civil War. A 6-week-old Witow arrived in the states on Christmas Day in 1920 and settled in Baltimore.
Even as the years progressed, the mother of two and grandmother of six has maintained her community-oriented spirit and active lifestyle, said her daughter, Alison, of Pikesville. From plays at Everyman Theatre to lectures at the Pre- Columbian Society, Witow doesn’t miss an opportunity to be out and about.
And that’s why Alison wasn’t the least bit surprised when her mother decided to celebrate her upcoming birthday with an hour-long ride in a hot-air balloon.
“People always say they want to be like my mother when they get older,” Alison said. “And why wouldn’t they? She’s still going.”
Witow had long anticipated her journey with Sky Candy Ballooning, a family- owned company in Central Maryland. Although fearful that her trip would once again be canceled due to inclement weather, the Sunday evening proved ideal for flying.
She watched in awe as the balloon crew and her grandchildren, Ethan, 26, and Jordan Tucker, 29, assembled the 80-foot balloon. The rainbow-colored balloon added a pop of color to the hilly landscape as Ethan, Jordan and his wife, Naomi Pinson, 29, piled into the basket with their bubbie.
“I hope I make it back down in one piece,” said Ethan jokingly before taking off in the balloon. “My bubbie has been dreaming about this, so we’re happy to make her dream come true.”
Alison and other family members hopped in their cars to chase the balloon, driving up and down winding roads and parking their cars on the shoulder to wave at Witow and the others as they passed over their heads.
In his 10-year career as a balloon pilot, Sky Candy owner Steven Andrews said Witow has been the oldest passenger he has flown with thus far. Although he considers it a pleasure to welcome each passenger aboard his 120,000-cubic-foot balloon, flying with her was a special privilege that he will not soon forget.
“It’s amazing to see people her age who still want to get out there and do things in life,” Andrews said. “Ballooning is really about the passengers. We always love to see their enthusiasm, and Bubbie was all smiles.”
Andrews landed the balloon on farmland in Taylorsville belonging to Audra Mercer and her family, who trekked down a hill to watch the crew disassemble the balloon. The mother of two said she never forgot the day a hot-air balloon landed in a field behind her childhood home in Mount Airy, and she helped take it apart.
“It was amazing to see then, and it’s amazing to see now,” Mercer said.
In honor of completing her balloon ride, Witow received a pin etched with the words “First Flight” as well as a balloon-shaped trinket made out of a cork and wire.
“It was everything that I imagined it would be,” Witow said. “It was over all too soon.”